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Cast-iron wok

Quite a number of years ago on this board I read about a place in Chinatown (SF) where one could purchase a cast-iron wok. Apparently they are done thin to cut down on weight, but are cast iron and need to be seasoned.

Am I hallucinating, or do these really exist?

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  1. If you are a non-Chinese speaker then the Wok Shop on Grant Ave. They have a large selection.

    Good luck.

    2 Replies
    1. re: yimster

      Also Ginn Wall on Grant. Good selection of knives as well.

      1. re: peppatty

        Yes, Ginn Wall is also great for everything. But if I remember right the Wok Shop has more woks but Ginn Wall has a better hardware selection.

    2. i have one from the wok shop, which yimster mentioned. it has an enamel coating on the outside, and then you season the cooking surface. it is very light, not at all like those cast iron skillets, and i believe the enamel is for structural support.

      1. Somehow, "cast iron wok" is almost an oxymoron. I've seen them, but why a heavy pan that needs seasoning rather than a light carbon steel that need seasoning? The principle of wok cooking is the intense heat by use of thin carbon steel. Also, I cannot visualize a thin cast iron anything.

        4 Replies
        1. re: OldTimer

          yet they exist. i just dangled mine from my pinky finger curled like a closet hook, and i can barely manage to do a few pushups. they're not at all like a lodge skillet.

          1. re: OldTimer

            Good points there, but my main interest is heat retention. When you throw a handful of cold ingredients into a thin hot wok, the metal itself must lose temperature, and thus the "snap" in hot, quick cooking. I am curious to see one, and think of how it feels to cook with it. Also, some stoves are just not strong enough. Thanks for all the advice, everyone. Seems like I am heading toward Grant St.

            1. re: Tripeler

              Grant Avenue, indeed. You're heading to Grant AVENUE.

              1. re: Tripeler

                The essence of wok cooking is intense heat near the bottom of the wok and movement of the ingredients so that they don't burn on the bottom. With carbon steel it heats quickly and cools quickly so you have the hot zone only on the bottom. Cast iron will retain too much heat.

                However with most home electric or gas ranges, you don't get enough BTUs anyways so home wok cooking doesn't turn out the same as restaurants.

            2. I have been cooking with a cast iron wok for almost 2 decades that my husband purchased in China town. I have no idea where, but I can certify that it is a great wok. Very thin, so it is light compared to American cast iron skillets. I have used everything from a gas Gaggeneau "wok" burner (about 15,000 btu) to an outdoor propane burner (also chinese, I think, about 30,000 btu) and always had great results. Never tried it with a "normal" household gas burner, am sure it wouldn't work with electric. I couldn't live without this wok, as I am able to make some of my favorite stir fry, with a minimum of added oil, since the wok is very non-stick, like most cast iron. You will need to be careful not to drop the wok or put cold water in it until it has cooled down as it is somewhat fragile compared to steel.

              1. I find cast iron woks to be inferior to the carbon steel ones. The real purpose of buying cast iron is for heat retention but since Chinese cast iron woks are so thin, the difference isn't much compared to a carbon steel one. Plus, the thin cast iron is brittle and prone to cracking. The only true advantage I can think of a Chinese cast iron wok compared to a carbon steel one is that it's probably less prone to warping and probably absorbs seasoning better.

                Nonetheless, you should get carbon steel instead

                1 Reply
                1. re: takadi

                  I have had a carbon steel wok for years, and yes it holds seasoning well (unless my SO washes it without my permission). But still I am interested in trying a cast-iron wok, so I will be off to Grant. AVENUE to at least have a look at one. THanks to all for their advice.

                2. One advantage of CI is you tend to use less oil. To keep things moving and not sticking to CS, you use more oil. My mom rarely used a wok, instead a 4" or 5" deep cast iron skillet heated up very well.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ML8000

                    I find that you have to use more oil as well. It might have to do with the fact that carbon steel has lower conductivity than cast iron and is prone to hot spots and thus food burning or sticking. I don't find the difference wildly noticeable though, especially with a good heat source that is nice and hot and has even contact with the surface of the wok (those jet burners aren't too good).

                  2. I've had my cast iron wok for about 2 months and absolutely love it works great and food even taste better, I friend brought mine from Vietnam but I also found one 16" cast iron wok in a hard ware store in China town (SF) cost only $7 USD it was on Sutter Street on the West side of the street a bit down from Pacific

                    1. They exist!

                      I just bought the traditional cast-iron wok from the Wok Shop and it was love at first sight (and bite.)

                      The beautiful look and shape hooked me instantly. The weight is the same as my carbon fibers from the same shop. What really got me is how fast it cured and how beautifully. In just an hour, it had a more beautiful patina than the woks I've been using regularly for years. And the nonstick is incredible...even when deliberately burning onions in it to season it (per instructions), it is super easy to clean.

                      Here's the process for those who are interested: When you first get it it's covered with some sort of lubricant to prevent rusting during transport. I washed carefully, like four times, dried on a flame then coated with oil lightly and baked upside down at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. Last step: Fry (and burn) some aromatics, such as onions, scallions, garlic ginger. It was incredible how well it seasoned!

                      Despite some concerns on the Web that cast iron would be slow to heat, I find it's up to temperature nearly as quickly as my carbon fibers and sizzles a bit better at top heat!

                      I became an instant fan and I won't be going back. I can't believe all these years I never tried one because everyone said carbon fiber was better!

                      Right now I'm in the honeymoon phase where I'm making everything in this gorgeous wok. However, I'm going to be doing a lot of head-to-head tests with different dishes to see if there are some for which I prefer one of my carbon fibers. When I'm done testing I'll try to remember to come post!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: dumplingmania

                        this one?

                        looks like these have lower weight than typical cast iron pans- if they are indeed thinner, how evenly do they heat?

                        1. re: ckshen

                          If it has that low weight, it should be able to float.